My cup runneth over.
In this oft-quoted line from the oft-quoted Psalm 23, David rightly acknowledges that God pours out grace on us faster and more fully than we can receive it and take it in. But maybe the reason that our cups runneth over is that we’re not meant to be using cups at all.
Does God rain grace down on us just for our sake? Or are we called to share God’s grace with others? When Jesus sent out the Twelve in Matthew 10, He gave them this instruction, followed by this context:
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. – Matthew 10:7-8
I think it’s safe to assume Jesus is talking to us here, not just the Twelve – and about freely giving ordinary grace as much as miraculous healing and exorcism.
At a recent Cursillo retreat/workshop/worship weekend, a pastor friend of mine used a funnel to illustrate God’s call for us to share God’s grace with others, and I like that analogy much more than David’s cup from Psalm 23.
I also like that the narrowness of the giving end of the funnel helps us to target the grace we share with others intentionally. Serving with intentionality, rather than haphazardly, can help us to grow closer to the source of grace.
But unfortunately, as my pastor friend noted, the narrower the pointy end, the slower the flow.
The deluge of God’s grace that we receive is reduced to a mere trickle flowing out from us. And considering that we’re called to be like God, who shares grace with us abundantly, that just won’t do. My pastor friend therefore declared that it’s the job of every believer to allow God to widen the spouts of our funnels.
In processing industries, they have a word for this – a kooky term, probably coined by an engineer, known as debottlenecking. An ungainly mishmash of words and word fragments that would make a schoolmarm sharpen her yardstick, this term is at least quite self-explanatory. (It kind of reminds me of the unflinchingly practical bluntness by which Germans call a vacuum cleaner a staubsauger – which literally means ‘dust sucker’.)
But aside from its linguistic inelegance, ‘debottlenecking’ comes with a pretty upbeat and empowering connotation. In industrial scenarios, debottlenecking is an ingenuity-filled process whereby experts devise amazingly clever modifications to a system that make productivity smoother and more seamless. It’s an exercise in optimization. In making things right.
Similarly, the notion of allowing God to do some spiritual debottlenecking to widen the spout of our grace funnels sounds exciting and even pleasant. But at the risk of taking the metaphor too far (Moi?), it might be worth noting that the simplest way to debottleneck a funnel is to cut off the tip!
If we’re going to allow God to change us so we’ll become better conduits for God’s grace, it will almost certainly involve the shedding of habits, preferences, agendas and hang-ups that feel like they’re part of us. That’s scary, and it sounds painful.
And it’s probably also worth noting that once our funnels have been debottlenecked, it’ll be much more difficult for us to direct the flow from them with much precision. That intentionality I ballyhooed above becomes harder to achieve and maintain, and we end up splooshing the grace we intend to share strategically in a fashion that verges on willy-nilly.
That means sharing God’s grace will take up more of our time and resources, and we might well be required to share it with people we might not otherwise choose to interact with.
And while this will probably make us uncomfortable, I think it’ll also make us more Godly. After all, God rains grace on us not only abundantly, as I said above, but also indiscriminately – which is quite different from haphazardly.
And I think we’re called to do the same.
The amazing thing about this process, though, is that even though a wide-mouthed grace funnel is what each of us is made to be, and we’ll be happier when we get there and we know it (clap your hands), God allows us to set the pace for this debottlenecking process. God could take a cleaver and chop off the whole spout in one go, but instead God lets us decide when and how much to shave off. And I think God rejoices over every millimetre we surrender.
Peace be with you.
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Author’s note: As you read this text about snipping the end off a funnel spout in order to become more like God, if you feel the urge to insert a sophomoric joke about a certain Jewish rite of inclusion, feel free. I’m far too mature for such shenanigans.